Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Stranded Child

Stranded Child
Robert W. Stanford

Previous to the September 11th 2001 tragedy in New York, yet in that very same year, I happened to come across a homeless girl of 10 years of age, living with her mother in and around Moose Park.

The mother of this child was an intravenous drug user, possessing a serious and life threatening dependency on the injection of several controlled substances, including, but not limited to methamphetamine and black tar heroin. Both child and mother were constantly surrounded by several adult males. Many of whom were often confrontational with me because my presence and interaction with the mother and the child made them suspect that I was perhaps an under-cover police officer.

From my interviews with the child and mother I was able to make the determination that though the child did not appear to be malnourished, she had not bathed in an extremely long period of time and was suffering from a lice infestation that was causing multiple large sores on her scalp. Further, the many men in her surrounding environment had questionable character and value traits, since many, if not all, were seriously addicted to various controlled substances as well.

For a majority of the time, day or night, the mother had no knowledge of the specific location of the child, nor did she ever seem to be concerned about the well being of her child.
After having spent three days personally investigating this situation, I called the Stanislaus County Child Protective Services Department Main line.

The person I spoke with, told me in no uncertain terms, "We can’t just go and look for a little girl in the park."

Not only did I feel this statement was unprofessional; I felt that it was uncaring and insensitive to the actual needs which I knew for a fact were in our community. Right here in Moose Park.
I then called a friend of mine, who has now since retired from the Stanislaus County Child Protective Services Department. Fortunately, through many contacts he had still at his disposal, he was able to get the ball rolling, so that within the space of another five days, the child was removed from this dangerous environment.

One can only speculate on what this little girl’s chances are to avoid in life the pre-determined pit-falls bestowed on any child exposed to similar circumstances, but if the apathy demonstrated to me during my initial contact with the Stanislaus County Child Protective Services Department, are of any indication of the amount, we as a community care about an innocent ten year old girl stranded in a secluded park with an apathetic, strung out guardian, forced to live amongst parolees, sex-offenders and junkies, I would think any child’s chances of a fruitful future are quite dismal indeed.

Robert Stanford

Communication is the Key

Communication is the key

Communication is the key that unlocks the shackles of fear, guilt, hatred, and apathy in our communities.

Although at first, the subject and discussion of communication is quickly identified, categorized, and usually affirmed as understood when stated by an individual or an organization, it is in fact needed by two self-identifying parties such as a police department and a community group.

As a Civil Rights activist, I have often witnessed that when a community feels it has been treated unfairly in some way, an immediate knee-jerk reaction occurs in which communication, regardless of its previous state, will consist more of verbal missiles lobbed by various members of the community. Accusations are made and historical events are recited. Law enforcement generally becomes defensive, while under advice of their city and/or county legal advisors, and denial becomes its position.

The heated debate is, more often then not, reduced to nothing more than accusations that usually cannot be addressed in a forum, if at all, and denial of those accusations results in an involuntary denial of the reassurance previously sought by the community from local law enforcement.

At a recent Modesto National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) meeting, a police officer fielded an accusation of police profiling by saying, "My wife complains of the same thing every time she brings home another speeding ticket." This was said in a "Take my wife, please" humorous manner to make his point of denial to the accusation of prevalent profiling as palatable as he could.

"Is she white?" I asked.

"Yes," he replied, showing me right away that he had not put much thought into a response if the issue were to arise. Nothing more was mentioned for the remainder of the meeting although a few people traded glances as though speaking aloud, "Naturally" or "Typical".

Many of us present that evening would have absolutely loved a statement to the effect, "Yes. I am aware that in a few incidents profiling exists, but I assure you that we, as a department, are taking proactive steps to address them."

But there is no way the officer can say anything like that, especially at an NAACP meeting. He is only authorized to say what he has been instructed to say in response to general questions or statements regarding the conduct of all personnel within the police department.

This is the point at which communication between a community and its local law enforcement begins to break down. It breaks down on the side of the community because many feel that their concerns are invalidated and/or their experiences are dismissed out of hand as though their concerns are not important. This particularly angers parents who feel their children have been mistreated.

Communication breaks down on the side of law enforcement because officers may feel that the community’s concerns place them in a catch-22 type situation; If they admit to any flaws in procedure or problems with any officer, they may inadvertently open themselves up to possible legal problems, or the current forum may escalate to an undesirable state of affairs whether they answer or not.

Though what I have just described is in fact communication, it is strangled before it can benefit either side. An opportunity for growth is missed due to the inability of both sides to sufficiently empathize with the other. The "We’re all in this together" attitude must be addressed and considered before conversation can begin.

Venting, taking opportunities to let one side know how they other feels, may very well be important if not necessary. However, if that is all that occurs, great opportunities for understanding by both parties are missed by all.

To achieve successful communication, either to effectively change the community or to give fair warning against inappropriate actions against the community by local law enforcement, it is absolutely vital to be mindful of ecclesiastical philosophy; i.e. there is a time and place for everything.

Asking questions before meetings is beneficial to success. Questions such as: Who is the real audience? The police or the press? Are there others who may not be sure where you stand? What exactly would you want the police to do? Grant amnesty to a specific group? Practice affirmative action with their arrest and/or stopping procedures? Reduce or increase their presence in specified areas of the community? Usually, it comes down to either modifying procedures or starting or stopping activities. What activities would you like the police to start or stop? Stop daily harassment of homeless persons in a certain area? Start diversity training? Reach out more to the community? How? More importantly perhaps, how does local law enforcement feel about the things you want?

A couple of years ago, I witnessed a pre-teen Chicano child dressed in Converse tennis shoes, baggy pants and sporting a white t-shirt reaching his knees, stopped by police officers working with the Stanislaus County Gang Task Force Unit.

I immediately approached the officer and demanded, "Hey, wait, wait, wait, what’s your probable cause here?"

"He was riding his bicycle in the street," replied the officer, knowing who I was, and pausing for my response rather then ordering me to stand back or walk on, etc.

On this particular street in a desperate area of Modesto, there are no sidewalks, shoulders, or bike lanes. Further, by the child riding his bicycle in the street, moving with traffic, he was still well within his rights and not breaking any laws.

My first thought was to confront the officer, in front of witnesses, with the facts that he did not have probable cause to stop and roust the Chicano child. Instead, it occurred to me that, since the officer had paused, he was ready to listen (to whatever extent) to what I had to say. I had an opportunity to avoid a typical verbal scrimmage and effectively communicate with him as opposed to communicating against him.

I decided to forego my usual combative and often threatening response consisting of an insistence of releasing his subject because he did not, in fact, have probable cause, therefore leaving his circumstances open to criticism as an act of racial/cultural profiling. I let him off the hook and said, "When the neighbors that live around here see you do things like this, they think you’re profiling. They don’t know what your probable cause is."

He then turned and let his subject go, then turned back to me and gruffly asked, "Any more questions?"

I know the officer understood that his probable cause was non-existent and perhaps we were both a bit frustrated after not having expressed what we both wanted to, but I felt that we were all winners, even if by a little, tiny bit. I validated his actions with a reason for my concern. In turn, he listened to what I said, and released the child. Win-Win.

We do not have to accept a point of view, or even believe it, to acknowledge it. Once a side takes the first step to create discussion, real communication can follow, if both sides care enough to express their feelings to each other, no matter what those feelings are. There exists the opportunity for something beautiful and amazing to grow between all persons involved. The ramifications can be miraculous.

Robert Stanford
Airport Neighborhood Activist

The High Price of Heroism

The High Price of Heroism

Many of us have had the great fortune of having lived in the United States all our lives, never so much as once being exposed to a world lacking in so many of the everyday things we have come to take for granted at our earliest ages. Those things which we assume everyone else in our community enjoy as well.

We are taught by our community what is considered appropriate and that boldness combined with the expression of unique ideas or truths may lead to embarrassment and ridicule or much, much worse. For the most part, we as American Citizens have become creatively and compassionately sterile and quiet. When all the while, there are secrets which we all know should never be kept (i.e. DUI, AIDS, etc.).

So precious is the one individual that suddenly breaks away from conventional wisdom and speaks out, with a faltering and nervous voice or reaches out, with a shaking and timid hand to anyone or on behalf of any cause.

And so sad are the all too frequent moments that the individual must pay a hefty and sometimes even lethal price for their selfless and charitable efforts. With dirty and/or suspicious looks and words from those surrounding them. Some of whom they may even admire. Such is the risk those take when stepping away from the ocean waves of popular opinion. They begin thinking for themselves and stand up for what their hearts tell them is bright and true.

If it sounds to you that I know how this feels, you would be quite correct. I could not even begin to count the times that I have been jeered, laughed at, thrown out, and yes even beaten senseless by rednecks and law enforcement both, for saying those things I knew in my heart needed to be said. And I said them, trusting in constitutional rights of freedom of speech to do so.
And even to this very day, my reputation and name are being pillaged by the most publicly celebrated of local community and cultural leaders. Those who prefer I keep secrets, turn my head and look the other way (play the game by giving up my turn). All the while, those unable to pay their politically correct prices suffer in unimaginable ways. And for what? What would I receive? A pat on the back by those who would have me call them my leader? Never. And neither would you.

It’s all right now; it’s all right to be afraid, nervous and apprehensive. You are the only on that needs to be proud of you. Those that would prefer you to be quiet or speak other then what you feel will not be standing beside you when your ultimate time of judgment comes. Nor will they be holding your hand as you lay inside your deathbed, recounting these moments as invaluable assets in and of you life. Moments in which you bravely fought for those weaker than yourself. And when those you respect the most ever so subtly twist your words and accuse you of ridiculous atrocities and outrageous conspiracies, you can hold your head up ever so high, knowing that all along, you have performed your duty and fought for truth, justice and the American way. A real super hero. And what’s more, you will finally know for sure who your real friends are. Very quickly too, I might add.

So, if you do decide (or have already decided) to speak up (with or without a cape), I have some tips for you. A few skipping stones of arrogant tid-bits I have collected along my way that will certainly NOT make you task any easier at all.

1. Beware of he/she who takes you aside only to advise you on what or what not to say – anytime and anywhere.

2. Never be afraid to read a previously written statement.

3. Know your facts and know their myths. In that order.

4. Don’t stop speaking for anyone or any other reason until you are done no matter what they say or do. A jury never disregards and neither will anyone else.

5. Only answer the questions you care to. Don’t be afraid to say "No comment" and repeat as needed. (5th amendment – remember?)

6. Regularly monitor freedom of speech and libel/slander laws, as they may change practically with every new court case (I keep various cases printed out and folded with me at all times).

7. Feel free to immediately leave after you’ve finished speaking. And why not? Your job is very well done.

8. Call 911 if you think your’s or another’s safety is in question (no call is ever to small if 911 comes to mind). Even if you are feeling threatened by what may or may not be loosely referred to as authority figures (PoliceOfficers, Security Guards, Men in white coats – or black).

9. Don’t argue unless you want to (see number 5) and if you do want to argue, only argue the way that you want to – for your rights to advocatefor the rights of your cause – if necessary – Don’t let them pull your chain – you are always in complete control of you! And you already finished what you started; (see number 4) so feel free to stop arguing at anytime. Or not.

10. If you really feel the heat and your heart is bleeding from the stings of optical and/or verbal daggers, try and remember it’s all a lot like a casino – if the pit bosses are starin’ you down and sayin’ sly stuff you can’t quite make out, it is only because the evening is ever so much better for you then it is for them. Seriously. 11. And last, but not at al least, please remember this dear reader, whenever anyone tells you like it is, no matter who it is, find out every single fact on your own. You are the only expert you will ever need.So, let the record show now, that you too can be a hero. Suddenly your on your own - Alone.And you look like a fool, but not to everyone. There are those that will see who you really are – a real life super hero and they just might hold your hand.

GO GETTEM’ TIGER! The suffering need someone to cry out for them. Will you cry?

Robert Stanford
Airport Neighborhood Activist

Gangs are Cults and We are the Solution


Perhaps there are more of us then we realize, that cannot remember times as difficult as times are for us now.

I have always found it ironic that one photo in particular of the aftermath of the Jim Jones People’s Temple tragedy. With bodies strewn across the floor from drinking suicidal Kool-Aid, and prominently displayed on a pillar is a plaque that read, “Those who forget the past will be condemned to repeat it.”
How many of us have forgotten the past? Will anyone reading this remember the Moonies and Hari Krishnas spewing flowers and love in our American airports? Though I am sure everyone reading this remembers Nortenos and Surenos spreading bullets and graffiti throughout our communities, as a society, have we not done a poor job of passing on stories that can be contrasted with current events for understanding and possible solutions?
In the seventies, when a person joined a cult, our society did not consider incarceration with other cult members as a plausible solution. De-programming was an acceptable approach to dealing with cult members. Cult members that would seem to forsake even their parents for the benefit of the cult.
Of course, society’s predominant mental picture, fed to it by the media was a white cult member, a runaway from a broken home perhaps.
Today, it would seem, the public’s mental picture of a gang member is Latino or Black. An image that most white people think represents a weakness inherent within the biological heritage of these racial lines. And then we stop thinking about it all together and this negative stereotyped image (usually male) becomes what we then consider “conventional wisdom” and oh so dangerous when looking toward solutions.
Because, I submit to you, that if the other pieces of the puzzle were included, to fill out this picture beyond the halted comprehension of racial and cultural biasness, the public would see that none of us are immune from these same things our children are falling victim to. None of us are immune to the human natures and natural instincts existing within all of us. The need to belong afflicts all of us as much as the need to be loved.
Unfortunately, we are on our own, when it comes to expanding the story as it is presented by the grand stage of our environments, media, as well as national, state and local governments.
By remembering what we, as a society have been through before and by contrast and comparison, we can find the missing pieces to our problematic puzzles, thereby saving lives and possibly mankind’s very future as well.
Today, in most cities throughout California, there are neighborhoods in which the residents are consistently aware that they are being ruled by two factions: Law enforcement and Street gangs.
Because of the historical evolution of these disparate neighborhoods, law enforcement rule of these neighborhoods are broken into two separate factions of City police and county sheriffs, sometime over-lapping and sometimes not.
For the vast majority of the residents there really is not that much of a significant distinction between the two – a cop is a cop, as it were.
As far as gang rule, however, also being broken into two or sometimes even multiple factions, the distinction can be a deadly mistake if not made correctly, as well as timely.
The gang rule distinction is made by slang, gang signs and colors distributed throughout territories who’s very boundaries constantly change a result of present and ongoing gang warfare and marketing. Warfare that ranges for graffiti to homicide. And these things are only becoming worse.
We feed the gangs with soldiers – our very children. And our solution to solving this problem is to incarcerate our youth, treating them like criminals. They are fully educated and skilled upon their release for only one thing – benefit of the gang. To the death if necessary.
Where do gangs come from? Our prison system which is a viscious conglomerate and the result of our corporate American revolution of greed. But where does the majority of our youth end up? Dead or in and out of the penal system for the rest of their lives, particularly if they are black or latino.
I have seen the heart breaking aftermath of gang violence over and over again in my work as a civil rights activist/advocate.
I have had the ringing in my ears last for hours, after holding a wailing mother, whom I had never met before the funeral of her seventeen year old son, with no one else present but me, the mother, the minister, and the forgotten corpse of her dead son.
I have seen elderly Mexican women feverishly and fearfully practicing new gang signs in preparation to walk to a corner store.
And I have witnessed the fallout of a solution to our gang problems that is as effective as a loose band-aid; children, Latino children, forced to empty their backpacks all over the ground by police officers. These were elementary school children with their only claim to gang involvement being that they were of Latino descent.
Our youth are kidnapped in our very communities and a ransom is set that we have long since forgotten how to pay. We are struck by gangs at our weakest point. The point at which we have forgotten our past. We have forsaken our desire to comfort and support one another for something so much more desirable than our heritage – material wealth and popularity within our limited adult social and political circles. Of all the groups in my area I am involved with - this is all too true.
One day, we as a society will evolve to remember our past and thereby save our future by reaching out – loving and supporting one another equally before any of us or our children will ever have to look to a gang to get what they should be getting at home or from their communities at large.

Copyright 2008 (c) by Robert Stanford/Mundo Hispano - all rights reserved.
Robert Stanford
Airport Neighborhood Activist

Modesto Airport District Spay/Neuter Clinic - SUCCESS!

Airport District - Spay and Neuter Services - Success!

Saturday, July 26th 2008, the non-profit organization, the Stanislaus County Animal Services Auxiliary held a Mobile Spay & Neuter Clinic from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in the airport neighborhood. The operations were offered at $5, and rabies shots at $2 for those that could provide proof of public assistance or poverty.

Auxiliary President Mary Whetstone took the lead, bright and early at the Sheriff Substation located on Santa Cruz. Several volunteers from the auxiliary showed up, nervously awaiting the animals and pre-set appointments.

I was there as a Spanish translator and general gopher, especially helping with toting large items such as portable kennels and tables. As well as greeting some at the gate, most of which I had to explain to that I had instructed them that they needed to call beforehand to be on the list. The calling was very important, because they would then be given precise instructions on not feeding or watering their animals from 10 pm the previous night.

Many that showed without appointment were in fact people I had encouraged to come earlier and several came by word of mouth, thinking that they could acquire vaccinations at low or no cost for their animals.

All in all it was a success, except that I believe that out of the 23 appointments that were successfully serviced with the spay/neuter services, only 3 were actually residents of the Airport District.

Mary Whetstone, emphatically stated. "3,500 animals arrived at the shelter from the Airport District. This is inhumane. We have GOT to do SOMETHING."

Mary Whetstone and the auxiliary is hoping to have another event this September. This time it will probably be at a location in Ceres, with the focus on the residents of Ceres and some of the South Modesto Area.

Robert Stanford
Airport Neighborhood Activist

Airport District National Night Out

Yesterday August 5, 2008 Tuesday – was the National Night Out Celebration. The 25th anniversary of this wonderful event that is being put on by communities all across the United States to show solidarity and community unity within neighborhoods.

Airport District was no exception. Though not our first Night Out, this one was indeed spectacular!

We had Sheriff Deputy Moebe with the Stanislaus Sheriff Department in prominent attendance. Passing out Junior Officer badge stickers to the children and constantly looking for opportunities to interact and answer questions from all of those surrounding him and the two bright and shiny Sheriff patrol cars.

Dick Monteith from the Stanislaus Board of Supervisors was there. No, not just for a couple of minutes looking for a photo op or an “I came I saw so there.” – He stayed for the ENTIRE EVENT. Wonderful. And so great to see his interaction with the community he represents. In my opinion, that was the best part of the event for us!

Stanislaus County animal control was there with one of their trucks (a sight we seldom see actually) – and information on proper care for cats and dogs as well as spay an neuter information. Two animal control officers were there to answer questions and visit with the people.

A representative for HealthNet was there with their table as well as a representative from Catholic Charities – offering much needed information for MediCal supplication to needy families.

Friends Outside, they were there with a whole bunch of stuffed animals that they passed out the kids at 6 O’clock sharp.

Airport United, once again, provided tables and approximately 500 hotdogs and sodas for everyone.
And so many other wonderful people and organizations were in attendance. Another success for us and another step on the way of bridging law enforcement and the community. Dispelling fears propagated by myths of the street. Every year is another triumphant step toward community improvement.

Robert Stanford
Community Advocate

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Immigration and Thin Skin - A Methodist Perspective Is Given a Chance

From the program handed out during the evening of the panel I beleive sums up the panel and it's purpose from the Methodist church's viewpoint very well:

Faith & Politics: U.S. Immigration Policy

First United Methodist Church

Panel Discussion September 10, 2008

Many leaders, citizens and advocacy groups are calling for immigration policy reform. Estimates of the number of illegal/undocumented immigrants range between 12 to 14 million with the majority coming from Mexico and Central America. Approximately 40 percent live in California. Modesto of these immigrants is employed in low-paying jobs that citizens seem unwilling to do and have become vital to our economy. The Biblical mandate of radical hospitality encourages us to welcome strangers and aliens as citizens and neighbors. Many people of faith have led protests against deportations by ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) as Homeland Security has increased the enforcement efforts. Yet, general concerns for security have increased since 9/11. On October 26, 2006 President Bush signed into law the "Secure Fence Act of 2006", which authorized the construction of a 700- mile wall along the border between Mexico and the U.S. debate has shifted from a focus on whether this decision was wise to how we can fund a wall for the remaining 1,400 miles. Congress is debating the SAVE act (Secure America through Verification and Enforcement). Californians are struggling to balance a budget and are concerned about how many resources are used for undocumented immigrants.

The General Board of Church & Society of the United Methodist Church calls for reform, which will allow for five priorities:

Guest worker visas with a path to citizenship

Protect workers

Reunite families

Restore the rule of law

Enhance security.

Tonight we listen and learn from three panelists who have been involved in thinking about immigration issues to help us as people of faith to sort though the many complex issues.

For the complete story in the Modesto Bee that sums up the forum VERY WELL – please visit this link:

And then the reflections on a clique:

I had mistakenly thought that the forum was the previous night, and had showed up for it, fortunate enough to walk in on what appeared to be a board of director’s meeting of the church. They politely informed me that it was the following night. Having just gotten off of work, I had not had time to change and was still dressed in business attire with a tie.

Last night just before the panel speaking with one of the persons that were present when I walked in on their meeting – she said to me that when I said that I was an activist, she seriously thought that perhaps she should tell me that rather than it being held the following night that she should have told me it was held a few weeks later, so that I would miss it all together. The reason for her doing this, she said, was that when I informed them that I was an activist, after they asked if I was one of the panelists, this conjured a vision in her mind of radical chest beating and outbursts – something that the church that organized the event were fearful of when dealing with such a controversial subject.

The Panel was fantastic, particularly Solange Altman – She was also a member of the Charter Review Committee for this latest decade and I have slammed her on the Bee Hive Blog for cutting Latino populations and being obstinate about using census data as a sole base of numbers – it all came down to a numbers thing.

When I approached her during the break, I could tell that she was not terribly happy with me, and this is probably with good cause. But it got me to thinking about other people that I interact with and attack verbally, in print or what have you.

It gives substance to the common definition of being thick-skinned. I do not know precisely what Ms. Altman thinks of me. Though through vast experience of similar situations, I believe that she thinks that I am probably only looking to see what is in the issues for me and that I have no substance to my arguments – including attacks, in print, on-line, etc.

I have never had more than a moment or two of conversation with this person. If all she knows about me is from the Hive, the press, television and side articles in small press papers, I would think that she actually would not have a clear picture of who I am in a professional sense, much less ANY personal sense. But it is obvious that SHE DOES NOT LIKE ME.

And why should it matter? It matters to me because I admire her. After a Modesto City council meeting one night, in which I declared that I had no confidence in the current charter review committee and stated why, pretty much based on the numbers and referring directly to Ms. Altman as having stood fast with using a 10 year old census to justify a 50 percent under estimate of our Latino population, she caught me close to the lobby of the chambers and said, "Hey, you were picking on me…" to which I replied, "Hey, I’m just doing my job.." and cut her off rather abruptly I believe in favor of doing some more of my job and palm pressing people I was a shmoozin’ with.

But it was true. It had nothing to do with attacking her professionally; it was only my resentment over the use of her data to gauge the City’s Latino population, directly as I felt that it applied to District Elections. I felt that it was my duty to point this out and make a big deal about it, because otherwise, no one else would even give it a second thought. And of course with King Maker, Robber Baron George Petralukas at the helm of the charter review committee, nothing I said ever had any bearing on their decision or recommendation. It was all tossed aside. I was given the same respect these same people pay to Carmen Sabatino. And was even compared to him in the most negative way by another one of the charter review committee members.
Throwing the baby out with the bath water. I would not refer any clients to her for legal immigration assistance because I fear that she would retaliate against me by hurting them. That is a fear I have that has no basis in any fact and is a fear of the unknown, because I do not know her. I know more about her, then she does about me. I do not believe that she has any idea of what I do, or the role I play in the community. She may know more than user Activist1, Linda Taylor, but not by much.

Further, though I have no evidence whatsoever, I believe that she would be inclined to use the same tactics that Activist1 uses, in that she would try to discredit me just as she and others try to discredit Carmen Sabatino.

If I had the opportunity to have coffee with her for a couple of hours and explained to her what my primary goals were and what I did on a daily basis – I believe that she would completely change her mind about me. If she could set aside the one point regarding Latino population – though she would probably try to council me on how that would have been better handled, I believe that she would do so to help me.

I think the world of this woman. But I had to call her out on the numbers. No one else would – I had to be the bad guy. But other than that – I think she is great and I admire her very much.

At the panel last night, I could see why.

During the break, I knew that I had done my job – because I never kissed her ass.
What does all of that have to do with immigration – everything – if you don’t see the connection – you don’t know very much about me, nor my activism.

The bits and pieces that I attempt to throw out – do not do justice to the scope of what I do.
Robert Stanford
Community Advocate

Friday, November 28, 2008

Been There? Done That?

Been There? Done That?
Robert Stanford

Often we see them walking down the sidewalk with unquantified determination. Toting a backpack, pushing a shopping cart or riding a rustic bicycle with a caged trailer in tow filled with plastic bottles and aluminum cans or asking us for change all for the want of booze and/or drugs.
What is it that we think of these individuals as they become part of the history of our day? Do we wonder where they are coming from or where they are going? And if we do, how far back? How far forward?

And if we do not think about them at all, is it because we don’t care about them?

Do we make assumptions about them based on what friends and neighbors have said previously?

Do we immediately assume that they are alcoholics and/or drug addicts? Is this perhaps, one of the reasons we prefer not to think too long about where they have come from or where they may be going, besides the immediate possibilities of dumpsters and homeless shelters, only as far as a liquor store or a street corner drug connection?

Most law enforcement agencies, which have no choice but to interact with these people daily, will refer to them in a catch all manner as homeless and proceed to state that the three primary causes of homelessness as a lifestyle choice are:


Drug addiction

Mental illness

These three primary factors will be hat has contributed to the unraveling of these people’s lives at some point in the past and why when you see the person I have described, their goals have become reduced to the ultimate in simplicity – pain avoidance – moment to moment, day after day. Hunger, DT’s and/or drug withdrawal and body temperature regulation. These three factors of suffering, trump all other basic/social needs, such as grooming, financial obligation fulfillment and perhaps most importantly of all – self respect, confidence and self worth.
There is an over-used cliché that says all of us are one paycheck away from homelessness, however, if this was to be the case for an individual or family not plagued by alcoholism, drug addiction or mental illness, many would not be homeless for very long because they would not be trapped within a viscous cycle of moment to moment pain avoidance.

In other words – the ability to freely set as well as procure long-tem goals without the yoke of foreboding.

Assuming that the person we have described suffers through this cycle and let us further discuss what can be done to determine if a rescue is at all possible – an attempt at intervention.

The basis for any type of motivation for performing a rescue by an individual – a stranger to the person targeted, would need to be one resulting from the capacity for empathy, whether practiced or natural. To place one’s self in the position of another, attempting to fathom the horrific experiences of the person.

More often then not, the individuals that I see intervening and attempting to rescue people such as this, are individuals who have, in one form or another been there – They have an understanding that many of us can only imagine – such as the pain of going more than on to two days without any food at all – or the nightmarish visions of DT’s brought about by alcohol withdrawal and the putrid sickness of heroin withdrawals. Individuals that themselves have hit rock bottom – been there. Done that.

They are the ones that understand from first hand experience, the futility one feels when trapped within the walls of the pit of despair created by drug/alcohol addiction. An addiction that first robs you of the freedom to choose a path independent of the substance.

These individuals will generally only partially agree that this particular lifestyle is on that has or is being actually chosen.

They will be, however, quick to tell you that their personal rise from the ashes in their own lives was one in which they finally admitted that the choice was not theirs to make. They had to admit that they could not rise from the ashes alone and by themselves. They needed help from other people as well as God himself. Not just a program, but the people in the program and spiritual strengths offered by the program. The strength to suffer. The support to do what they could not do on their own. They must admit that they now have no control over themselves, much less the substance that rules them and their lives.

Often, I liken alcoholics and drug addict to zombies. Those that are possessed by something outside of themselves. No longer do these individuals make decisions on their own accord – They are ruled by the substance of their addiction. What has now become their drug of seemingly necessity?

One who has not gone for more that one to two days without food, often does no understand what they would become. The choices they would make. The compromises that would take. They have no idea the extent to which they would go to survive to procure nourishment. Something inside of them would take over.

I suppose that many would say that it really all boils down to a matter of strength of one’s character. Though, this may very well be a foregone conclusion, are these no so many circumstances present day and historically that would skew the amount of strength possessed by individuals on a case by case basis? Would the lack of this strength in one human being, make this a bad human?

The judgement, whether made on a case by case basis or bj6y blanket generalities is always difficult, if not impossible if made from the point of view lacking the actual experience of having been there.

If we were to abandon our resentment for these people, borne of our assumptions that as individuals, this life-style was one that was not freely chosen, but rather, if we were to adopt a more humanistic, or what may be considered to be a more spiritual approach in sizing up these individuals, suddenly we might begin to be able to see that there can be hope for them.
To consider if for no other reason then out of respect for another human being, that just maybe the primary cause, besides alcohol or drug addiction, that the person is caught up in their current predicament, is because, simply they have no one to count on anymore.

As is often the case, along the life-path of an alcoholic or drug addict, most, if not all of the ties they had previously possessed, be it family or life-long friends, have been destroyed by deceit and treachery caused by their addiction. And nearly all of the people surrounding them in their community are of the mind that these individuals are making a conscientious choice to be in their present circumstance, unaware of the control being held over them like the proverbial carrot just beyond the reach of the horse.

Without the support of others. Without love. Without a single person to care about them, what hope can they possibly have? What motivation could be fostered to make change in their lives for the better? What is there to change for, when loneliness and withdrawal combine to infuse the perfect cocktail of depression, sadness and pain? Every person that should represent morality, hope and faith for them,. banishes them instead with a prevailing attitude of contempt and disgust. What hope can they possibly have?

However, there can be an alternative. There can be hope for them.

Beginning with the acceptance of these people more as lost than nefarious, the beginning understanding compassion can begin.

As a project, one could pursue these individuals to a certain extent, offering assistance. Providing support for them to possibly enter a treatment program and become actively involved in other services to improve the quality of their lives.

The first objection may be on that they have tried the program before and for one reason or another, they were either not successful or their success was short lived.

The very best method of convincing one to face their addiction(s) head on and enter into an appropriate program is to offer the suggestions of long term goals – what life could be for them – examples of having a plaice, a family again, etc.

Often there will arise from them a multitude of problems, some of which may be multi-faceted, but all of them seemingly overwhelming and impossible to solve by the individual solely. Generally this is cause by a combination of the amount of time the individual has suffered with the problems as well as the overall sense of hopelessness the individual has relating to her own alcoholism and/or drug addiction. The long term ravages that this has caused in their lives.
The objective of convincing an alcoholic or drug addict to change must always be based on starting over. A back to basics approach – crawl before you walk. Square one. One day at a time.

But emphasizing what life can be like by the accomplishment of basic short-term goals and achieving consistency through recovery and restitution – To remember what their dream were.
Focus and direction is the very first accomplishment that must be done by the individual. From this will come the determination fueled by the motivation of what life could be like for them. Often they are unable to paint this picture for themselves, because their dreams have long since been broken in shards, or simply faded from memory.

What I propose is an extremely radical approach. More than merely asking one to exit their comfort zone for the consideration of diverse liberal ideology, I am proposing physical action – A call to action by you as a citizen that just might result in injury or worse.
If one were to do such a thing – to extend a hand for reach outreach – The result could be magnificent and a testament to so many others.

Every person and situation is different, even though the commonalties are ever so present.
I have been struck by fist, beer bottles and other items. Police has also accosted me on many occasions over the years under the suspicion of transacting drug deals with these individuals. Abetting them or being one of them. I have been conned, lied to and have even been robbed by them. Was it worth it? Perhaps, but it happens less and less as I become more realistic and less confident in my powers of persuasion of a complete stranger strung out on alcohol or drugs. With nothing to lose or gain in there own mind.

There are those no one will ever be able to save. But, on the other hand, there are those that can be saved, if only another human being would help them see their own self worth and befriend them with unconditional love.

Every human being needs those things that drugs and alcohol quickly destroy – love and support from the community that feeds self-worth. The reason that none of us can not be absolutely immune is because so many of us have never been there. But for many of us, still, when we see an individual on the street who’s only goal is their next bottle or fix, we automatically empathize and do not take that road. We do not want to go there. We do not want that pain – the pain we empathize with. But we do not have to allow our empathy and compassion to only stop there.
There are rescues that need to be performed – right now! And sadly, if you do not take the initiative and attempt just one rescue on your own, there but for the grace of God will go all of us, forever into a dark pit of despair – all alone – Because on the streets – no one hears you scream.

Copyright 2008 by Robert W. Stanford - All rights reserved.

Those Cute Little Baby Obits...

Stanislaus County is the third worse for Latino infant mortality of the fifty-eight counties that comprise the state of California।

If this is news to you, you are not alone. Most people are unaware of this horrible fact, and when they are made aware, they don’t seem to care very much at all. But, I believe they really do care and I believe you, especially do.
First on the list from the heads of our local Health Department, will be the standard strategy of diverting the subject to the percentage of Latino mothers using alcohol, tobacco and drugs। As though these things alone, are all that contribute to Latino infant death syndrome (LSIDS).

But the Center for Disease Control (CDC) tells the other side of the story. Simple things, such as how to correctly lay a baby in a crib or sharing the mother’s bed with her baby also contributes to these numbers. So many lives that can be saved with an informational brochure, or even better yet, a new mother’s class.
And when these methods are mentioned, the same subject-averting responses are heard – How can we pay for this? We can’t afford this। We can’t do this right now. Unless they think it will do something for their over-inflated good name, no one really does much of anything.

Shouldn’t we at least ask ourselves how much a Latino baby’s life is really worth to us? At what point in a Latino child’s life does it actually deserve to be saved?
Our society certainly seems to not have a problem destroying our young Latino’s lives by committing the poorest of them to prison without affording them proper representation. So why should we, as a society, have any concern over our Latino babies never getting to see their very first birthday.
Not to mention, the mental well being of the mothers, fathers and other family members that seem to be able , now that it is their baby that is dead, to fathom something that we, as citizens of Stanislaus County, cannot- Just how precious that particular baby’s life is। But I know we can. And I know that we will.

Number three in the state of California for Latino infant mortality. Do I sound redundant to you? Of so many people I have broached this subject with I soon have dialogue similar to the following:

“Did I tell you this already? We are number three in the state of California for Latino infant mortality?”

“Oh, yeah, yeah…।sad। So how was your weekend?”

Across the board we are higher than most other counties for infant mortality, despite the race of the child victims। So it would be very easy (one would think) for me to attend one of these little boy or girl’s funerals, giving as much support as I could to the families on behalf of the citizens of Stanislaus County। Because then I could say:

“My weekend was … (however the experience was) … । I attended the funeral, reception (and other?) of (name of child). I was there on your behalf.”

Wouldn’t that be quite a bold thing to say? I would concur, if you say yes, however, consider if you would: What thoughts may arise? Longer and more lasting thoughts in this dialogue exchange with another individual regarding infant mortality and it’s easy and inexpensive prevention।

Shock, many tell me, is an inappropriate method of communication. But consider this – What if it can save someone’s life, by starting a chain-reaction of thoughts in another individual?
If someone-anyone was on the step of your front door, - dying, how far would you go in your efforts to save that person’s life? Like when one puts up a fence to secure a swimming pool। Why do they actually do this? Because the insurance company told them to put up the fence? Who tells the community to secure or remove the doors of discarded refrigerators? Do you know what I am referring to?

It’s just a matter of logistics and the knowledge that the possibility does indeed exist! The prevention of a child dying!

Perhaps one could wear a big sandwich board downtown that reads on one side, “At what age does innocence end?” And on the other side, “At what age will I earn an obituary in the paper?”
And then, when people approach you because they think it’s a pro choice/ pro life thing, you can answer them by handing to them the two year study which was conducted of our county’s infant mortality provided by the Stanislaus County Health Department।

I mean if they would care so much as to actually approach you in the first place, they must care enough about something? Right?

Or you could take a card table and chair and set up in front of Mi Pueblo on Crows Landing road and distribute literature to soon-to-be Latina mothers। “Para Te” is all the Spanish you would need. I’ve done it! You can too!

“So, what did you do this weekend (your name here)?”

“I saved some baby’s lives and stemmed the tide of grief for families। What are you doing next weekend?”

We don’t have to be number three in Latino infant mortality। You can stop this and reverse this tragic trend. If you would like more information on what you can do to save babies lives and prevent family grief, call the Stanislaus County Health Department. Your taxes are paying for them to help you do this. If it doesn’t work out, email me at and I will make it work out for you.

What’s it worth? It’s worth our very future!

Copyright 2008 (c) Robert Stanford all rights reserved.
Robert Stanford
Airport Neighborhood Activist